Douglas Hansen-Luke was Parliamentary Candidate for Walsall North in 2015, and advises and consults with government sovereign funds on best practice asset allocation and impact investing. This article also benefited from research by Khadijah Hamirani, an A-level student based in Oxford.
As summer ends, Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, will be preparing for a challenging round-the-world schedule promoting Britain as a country to do business with.
Potential trading partners have been analysed, advisors consulted and priority countries recommended. This article has its own list of countries for priority trade deals but deeper than that, it argues that we should aim to work first with those who are most ready and willing to work with Britain. This means countries that have expressed an interest in post-Brexit FTA’s, talking to sovereign funds who see commercial opportunity in the UK and re-establishing mutually profitable trade within the fast-growing and continually expanding Commonwealth.
Focus on those countries who most want to trade with us
Global Counsel, a left-leaning but rigorous think-tank, has already produced a list of countries with whom it makes most sense for Britain to sign FTA’s. Ranked by “metric points” driven by GDP size, growth and existing trade they’ve ranked China first priority, the US second and so on. Although a sensible approach, FTA’s, like politics, are all about the art of the possible.
Let us talk first to those countries who have publicly gone out of their way to say that they would like to talk to us. Japan is third on Global Counsel’s target list but given their latest statements, it is unlikely that they will engage in negotiations without first pushing us on our deal with Europe. Overlaying willing partners with Global Counsel’s list and eliminating potentially more difficult nations would result in this alternative top five:
- Mexico – Who have already issued a draft FTA and who would give us access to the entire North American market through their membership of NAFTA;
- Switzerland – A land-locked country that has managed to combine trade, independence and growth to produce a GDP per capita double that of the UK;
- India – The world’s second most populous country and one of its fastest growing;
- Australia – Rich in natural resources and agriculture and already willing to prioritise an agreement with us over the EU;
- South Korea – The destination for 5.2 per cent of Britain’s exports and possessed of a skilled negotiating team who’ve just completed a successful trade agreement with the EU.
Australia completed a free trade agreement with the US in eleven months and smaller countries like Iceland and Switzerland negotiated agreements with China within three years. Let’s see how many of the above target five countries Britain can line-up so that within months of leaving Europe we can boast that we’re able and willing to do business with the world.
Follow the money
Sovereign wealth funds across the globe have over £5.7 trillion in assets. To put it in more human terms, that is £89,000 for every man, woman and child in the UK. These funds have a mandate and a duty to diversify their country’s wealth by investing overseas in commercially viable projects. Let’s attract more of it to the UK.
SWF’s and the world’s largest pensions already rate Britain, with its rule of law, as one of the most attractive destinations for their capital. It’s no coincidence that Britain has one of the highest rates of foreign direct investment per head, especially with London being the world’s premier financial centre. We should play to our strengths and actively work with sovereign funds and pensions to make it even easier for them to do business here. Sixty per cent of SWF’s want to increase their investments in infrastructure and British infrastructure is sorely in need of renewal.
Although SWF’s are essentially private sector investors, there is certainly a role for Government as an enabler. Liam Fox, is a ‘dry’ free-marketer to be sure but by standardising Government infrastructure projects, by focussing UKTI on institutional investors and hosting sovereign offices and co-investor events, he will be able to play a significant role in accelerating inward investment: a process which should also be matched as Britain forms its own wealth funds. We should be good partners and co-invest alongside foreign funds both at home and abroad. Edi Truell, an outspoken advocate of Brexit and the free-market, has already been tipped to drive the formation of these British funds. Let’s quickly get that appointment confirmed and again move forward.
Think of the Commonwealth
Just under one in three of the world’s population live in the Commonwealth. We don’t need to stop trading with the EU’s 500 million inhabitants but let’s trade more with the Commonwealth’s 2.2 billion. Europe is locked-in to a permanent average low-growth path of less than two per cent whilst, even in a bad year, the Commonwealth will double that. What makes more sense? Focusing on a large, deflating market or to migrate to a larger, high-growth opportunity. Moreover, research from the Commonwealth Secretariat suggests that shared laws, language and history, mean that bilateral trade-costs within the Commonwealth are 20 per cent cheaper than outside.
Fifty years ago, Britain’s exports to the Commonwealth made up half of our total. Today that figure is just 10-12 per cent. The only way is up. New Zealand has already offered its top team of trade negotiators to Britain. Let’s accept this help from friends and family and use it both for FTA’s and for Commonwealth trade acceleration.
Leaving the EU isn’t saying ‘goodbye’, it’s saying ‘hello’ to the rest of the world
New FTA’s, co-investing in infrastructure with sovereign funds, and re-establishing relationships with the Commonwealth are all options for Britain.
Fox’s challenge is not a lack of opportunity but too much potential and too many things to do at once. Our future is one of hope and greater prosperity. Let us seize the moment and stride forward with confidence once more into the world.